Paddling Upstream

Alvin Josephy passed away almost two decades ago, but time and again, during this coronavirus/Black Lives crisis, I have heard him shout in my ear that when our history books don’t lie about Indians, they ignore them.

When the NYT sends a reporter to the Navajo Nation to document the terrible impact of Covid-19 on the people, the world reads and sighs—and then the story goes to the back pages or to no page at all. When George Floyd is killed by police in Minneapolis, and Indigenous singers and jingle dancers from many tribes go to the site of the killing to pay homage and honor the man, a video from Indian participants sneaks out on Facebook. Indians and their tribute are barely visible in the national press.

When people come into the Josephy Center where I work and get the first pages of the Nez Perce story—the one about Wallowa lands left to the Joseph Band of the Nez Read The Article

“Everyone Reads” Josephy in 1969!

As far as I can make out, Seattle Public Library’s “Seattle Reads” program began in 1998 with Russell Banks’ “Sweet Hereafter.” The NEA–National Endowment for the Arts–began the Big Read program in 2006, and Fishtrap and Wallowa County were one of the first, pilot projects. We read Ray Bradberry’s “Fahrenheit 451.”

I just found out that Western Washington University did a campus-wide read of Alvin Josephy’s “The Patriot Chiefs: A Chronicle of American Indian Resistance,” in 1969!

The information came from Makah filmmaker Sandy Osawa (“Pepper’s Powwow,” “Usual and Accustomed Places”), who sent a press release which included the following:

“Western Reads will also be commemorating the 50th Anniversary of “The Right to Be Indian” Conference, which took place at WWU in 1969. In that year, representatives of tribes west and east of the Cascades came to Western Washington State College to support indigenous youth culture. The entire campus read a common book in conjunction with the conference, The Patriot Read The Article

Chester Nez, Indian Patriot

The last of the original 29 World War II Navajo code-talkers, Chester Nez, passed just weeks ago at the age of 93. The cruel ironies in his story are many, but the greatest of them haunted Nez to the end: “All those years, telling you not to speak Navajo, and then to turn around and ask us to help with the same language,” he told USA Today in 2003, “It still kind of bothers me.” 
I’ve known for years that the enlistment rates for American Indians in the armed forces are higher than for any other definable group, and that the standard interpretation is that “warrior culture” still flourishes in the tribes. Maybe true—though it seems we’ve made a bad habit of lumping all Indians together without considering historical realities of some tribes being more war-like and some tribes being known for peace-making skills. And we haven’t taken into account gender roles
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The end of November


It is the end of November in my 72nd year and my mind churns.
I guess for many of us of a certain age November will always be associated with John Kennedy’s death. Yes, I remember the day, remember riding my bike to class at UC Riverside, putting it in a rack and walking across campus and coming on a distraught Dr. Dennis Strong, waving his hands, tears streaming down his face, shouting that they had shot the President.
Although a couple of UCR students I knew checked out almost immediately and joined the Peace Corps, it took me almost two years to do the same. We went to Turkey with Kennedy half-dollars stuffed in our bags, tokens we would hand out to friends we made. And, like Volunteers across the world, I found newspaper and magazine pictures of JFK, in my country alongside photos of Ataturk, in small villages
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